Sheriff asks to dump Armor Health due to lack of accountability, questionable practices

UPDATE 1/23/23: Armor Health has denied any wrongdoing in a statement to ACC Commissioners. They’re calling the Sheriff’s allegations “outright wrong, misleading and bordering on slanderous.”

Armor Health of Clarke County LLC, previously known as Armor Correctional, is the healthcare services contractor that has provided care to inmates at the Clarke County Jail for much of the past decade. But due to some questionable business practices, a failure to provide adequate care and a potential breach of contract, they might not be with us for much longer.

The ACC Commission is considering a request from Sheriff John Q Williams to award the new jail healthcare contract to Mediko Correctional Healthcare instead of Armor Health even though Armor’s yearly bid came in at $1.2 million lower than Mediko’s.

Competing Proposals

Armor Health currently charges the Sheriff’s Office $2.2 million each year to provide healthcare services, an increase of almost 70% since 2012. Armor’s yearly contract with Athens-Clarke County expired in 2022, but they still provide services on a month-to-month basis. Recently, they submitted a bid to the Sheriff’s Office in an attempt to regain their yearly contract.

In their new proposal, Armor would charge about $3 million to continue providing care at the jail for the next fiscal year, a figure which may vary somewhat depending on jail population. In exchange, they’re offering to provide 744 staffing hours at the jail per week, which amounts to $4,084 per staffing hour. According to the Sheriff’s Office, this represents a slight increase in staffing hours from their prior contract.

Mediko, on the other hand, is offering significantly more staffing hours in their proposal at a significantly higher expense. Mediko promises 1,016 staffing hours per week at a cost of $4.3 million for the next fiscal year, or $4,202 per staffing hour.

Bar graph comparison of Armor and Mediko's proposals

Problems with Armor Health

At a recent ACC Commission work session, Williams’ team laid out their issues with Armor Health and explained the reason why they are seeking a change of provider. 

Sheriff John Q Williams
Sheriff John Q Williams

First, Williams stressed that the Sheriff has a responsibility to care for the health of inmates. This responsibility is written into Georgia code and is protected by the eighth amendment to the US Constitution as determined by the US Supreme Court. He then implied that Armor Health was failing to help him uphold his end of this important responsibility.

“There’s been no widespread issues in the jail because we take care of people, of human beings, and that’s our main focus,” Williams said. “Some of those things we’ve been able to do are because we have good people, not because we have a good company. Sometimes it’s in spite of the company.”

Frank Woods, the Chief Deputy of Jail Operations, then went over some of the specific improvements he would like to see in healthcare provision at the jail. For example, a big issue for Woods is that Armor’s current contract almost completely ignores mental healthcare. Armor provides only 1.2 minutes of mental and behavioral health care per inmate, daily. 

Mediko’s contract would provide almost five times that amount.

Similarly, Armor’s current contract does not adequately address the problem of inmates who are addicted to drugs. According to Sheriff’s Office staff, inmates are sometimes forced to go “cold turkey” in jail but are not there long enough to complete their detoxification. Once released, they go immediately back to using drugs, which might cause them to be arrested again.

Frank Woods, Chief Deputy of ACC Jail Operations
Frank Woods, Chief Deputy of ACC Jail Operations

Woods says that the lack of focus on mental healthcare and substance abuse has led to increased injuries to both inmates and deputies and also an increase in repeat offenders and recidivism.

Furthermore, Armor has been unable to adequately staff the jail, according to Woods. That’s led to a number of issues including medical errors, failure to manage acute injuries and a neglect of chronic conditions.

Finally, Woods mentioned the need for a medical contract compliance monitor to hold contractors like Armor accountable to the terms of their contract and ultimately to the taxpayer, implying that this has been an issue in recent years.

Williams then returned to the podium and elaborated on this potential breach of contract. He also mentioned some seemingly unethical business practices he says Armor has recently engaged in. 

“We’ve had some good people who worked for Armor, but those people have left,” Williams said. “They were actually doing the right thing, and I think they got pressure put on them and now they’re not there. As we try to hold this company more accountable, we’re getting pushback.” 

He also commented on Armor Correctional’s name change to Armor Health of Clarke County LLC in August 2021. 

“A lot of times what these companies do is they get in trouble, they change names or they create an LLC so they can’t be sued under the other name. That’s what the one we’re with has done. They change names and they change ownerships so they can’t be sued.”

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The ACC Commission responds

No matter what the ACC Commission chooses, healthcare costs at the jail will increase by at least 40% in the next fiscal year, if not 97% or more.

Hearing that an expense is set to double in cost is never welcome news for commissioners, or anyone for that matter. Commissioner Patrick Davenport asked if they could push back making a decision on this for a few months until budget talks begin in earnest, so jail healthcare needs could be balanced against other priorities.

“It’s a large piece of the budget that we’ll be deciding on before we get into the process of our budget,” Davenport said at the commission’s agenda-setting meeting this week.

Commissioner Allison Wright
Commissioner Allison Wright

However, Commissioner Allison Wright spoke up to encourage her colleagues to switch contracts to Mediko without delay. 

“I plan to support this,” Wright said. “We do have to make some tough decisions [in our budget this year], but this is a health and safety issue for the persons in our jail and the people who work there.”

Mayor Kelly Girtz agreed, saying “while this is an enormous budgetary hit, this is a question of health, safety and human dignity.” 

Noting that the medical contact cost is dependent on the average number of individuals in the jail, Commissioner Jesse Houle urged the local government to make a strong effort to shrink the carceral system.

“I would love for this body to commit to a goal of reducing our jail population,” Houle pleaded. “We need to get [the Sheriff and] other people to the table and see how we can break some of those cycles.”

Williams seemed open to working with the commission and other agencies of the local government on the goal of reducing the jail population. Whether this will happen or not is yet to be seen. In the meantime, jail healthcare costs will go up significantly, but so might the quality of care that inmates receive.

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